Online Writing Lab

Fragments

In order for a sentence to be grammatically complete, it must adhere to three different rules:

  • It must have a subject (the noun that performs the action of a sentence).
  • It must have a predicate (the verb that is tied to the subject of the sentence).
  • It must be a complete thought (it needs to make sense and be able to stand on its own).

If a sentence meets these three criteria, it can stand on its own and is referred to as an independent clause.  (If something is independent, it obviously doesn’t need any help.)
If a written sentence does not conform to all three of these rules, it is a fragment. 

Fragment:
A fragment is a group of words that is written as a sentence but does not conform to one or more of the rules listed above.  In other words, a fragment is missing a subject or a noun or is not a complete thought.   Most fragments written by college-level students are a result of an independent clause and a dependent clause that are not put together in the same sentence.  (More on independent and dependent clauses)

If a writer is aware of the rules for sentence construction and makes sure they are always followed, fixing a fragment is fairly straightforward. 

Here are some examples of fragments along with possible fixes:

Example #1:

  • Error: I need to study more for my math class.  Because I am not doing very well. 

In this example, the second sentence is actually a dependent clause (what about the fact that you aren’t doing well?) and needs to be connected to the independent clause.

  • Revision:  I need to study more for my math class because I am not doing very well.

Example #2:

  • Error: Aims offers a variety of classes at a variety of times.  Which is why I decided to attend the school.

Once again, the second sentence is a dependent clause (why did you decide to attend Aims?) and needs to be connected to the first sentence, which is an independent clause.

  •  Revision:  Aims offers a variety of classes at a variety of times, which is why I decided to attend the school. 

Error #3:

  • Error:  The weather in Minnesota can be hard to live with.  Always cold in the winter and can be hot and humid in the summer. 

The second sentence is missing a subject; it can either be connected to the first independent clause or needs to restate the subject.  Simply inserting the pronoun it to refer back to the weather will fix this.

  • Revision:  The weather in Minnesota can be hard to live with.  It is always cold in the winter and can be hot and humid in the summer.

Error #4:

  • Error: A well-written essay with lots of facts and proper citations.

This sentence is missing a complete verb, also known as the predicate (and because the predicate is missing, we aren’t sure what the subject is either). 

  • Revision:  She turned in a well-written essay with lots of facts and proper citations.

Note:   Fragments can often be found in other forms of writing, such as novels and personal interest pieces that appear in newspapers and magazines.  In these cases, fragments are used for effect by the writer, and the writer is aware that she is using them.  However, in an academic essay, fragments should always be avoided. 

Identifying Fragments Exercises